By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carl Edwards has seven wins this season and unbridled optimism about his potential.
What he doesn't have -- and probably won't get this year -- is a Sprint Cup championship.
But credit Edwards for refusing to wave the white flag on his title run. After all, he gained 15 points on Jimmie Johnson with his win Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Problem is, he's still a whopping 183 points out with just three races left to dethrone Johnson.
It's preposterous to think Johnson -- who only needs to finish ninth or better in the final three events to win his third consecutive title -- is suddenly going to slip and give Edwards any chance to steal the trophy. Edwards, however, won't concede and is taking a commendable positive attitude into the final stretch.
"Listen, guys, anything can happen," Edwards said. "If there's one thing this season has shown me ... it's that every time you think you've figured out who is going to be the guy to beat, I think it can get turned on its head quickly. As long as we're within 130 points going to Homestead, we're still going there to win the championship and it can happen."
Even if that doesn't work out, Edwards has had a terrific season, overcoming an early 100-point penalty and six-week suspension to start the Chase as one of the favorites. But you've got to be perfect these days to beat Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew, and Edwards hasn't been.
He triggered a 14-car accident at Talladega Superspeedway that led to a 29th-place finish and backlash from several competitors. Mechanical problems a week later in Charlotte contributed to a 33rd-place finish.
Those two blemishes may well be what Edwards looks back at a month from now, wondering what he could have done differently. That's because, in the five other Chase races, Edwards finished no lower than third.
It's why car owner Jack Roush was suggesting NASCAR implement a mulligan rule for the Chase, where a driver can throw out his worst finish from the final 10 races. It won't happen -- and it wouldn't help Edwards, anyway: Johnson's lowest finish of this Chase was a ninth at Talladega.
So Edwards will forge ahead, intent on winning the final three races of the season and only worrying about where he stacks up when the checkered flag falls on the Nov. 16 finale in Florida. He won't think about what might have been right now, or stop to assess what he has accomplished so far this season.
"If we win 10 races and the championship, that's going to be a spectacular season and that's what we're focusing on doing right now," he said. "We just have to see what happens. But one thing I've learned in this sport, it's really hard to come to grips with, you don't always get the result you want.
"You just have to perform the best you can. If you do that, the result doesn't matter."
Some other quick hits from Atlanta:
-- Yes, Johnson has turned the Chase into a bit of a joke this year with an average finish of 3.7 through the first seven races. But it's hard to criticize him, especially after he passed nine drivers in an amazing final eight lap-run Sunday to finish second.
When he becomes the first driver since Cale Yarborough (1976-78) to win three consecutive championships, the talk should be about how unbelievable Johnson has been and not about flaws in the Chase system.
But Johnson doesn't really care if critics want to blame him for "ruining the Chase."
"I would hope that through all of this, that people would watch and say ... 'This is pretty cool,"' Johnson said. "A guy has a chance to do something that has been done once before and then will re-rack next year and chase history."
-- Team owner Bill Davis wasn't at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, when rumors swirled about the stability of his race team.
A possible merger or sale to Gillett Evernham Motorsports has apparently fallen apart, and now comes whispers that Truck Series points leader Johnny Benson might leave the team at the end of the season to drive for Red Horse Racing.
With no sponsor currently lined up for the No. 22 Cup team next season, Benson's potential departure could be the final straw in an organization that once won both the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500.
The slumping economy has created an air of panic throughout the NASCAR industry, as more and more organizations are fighting for survival and crew members are worried about future employment. If BDR indeed becomes another casualty, it's bad news for the entire sport.
-- Reed Sorenson should take immediate note of AJ Allmendinger's past two races -- back-to-back top-15 finishes in the car Sorenson will drive next season for GEM.
Sorenson signed his contract to drive the No. 10 before Allmendinger was released from Red Bull Racing, and Allmendinger is simply keeping the seat warm. But he's still jobless for 2009, and more runs like his last two could have GEM officials wondering if they made the wrong hire.